I had the honor of preaching this past Christmas Eve. I thought I’d share my homily here, a succinct 6-minute sermon (with a long quote from K.J. Ramsey) called “Consenting to Christmas Joy” (Click the link for the audio, read on for the written version.)
Isaiah 26:16-19 | Psalm 68:4-13 | 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 | Luke 2:1-20
For Christmas, the Women’s Lectionary has given us the traditional nativity narrative from Luke’s Gospel, along with promises of the dead rising: the story of the birth of the Messiah overlapping with the prophesied second coming of the Messiah.
The prophet Isaiah recounts the fruitless labor pains of our efforts to make things right for ourselves and for the world. We sense the gap between our longings and our actual lives. We writhe in labor because of our distress, but we birthed only wind, unable to produce the life, flourishing, and justice we long for.
But then comes the sudden prophecy: “Your dead shall live; their corpses shall rise… the earth shall release those long dead!” God will bring about the flourishing we long for, by releasing us from the ultimate enemy: raising us from the dead.
This prophecy begins its fulfillment in the labor pains of Mary, an impoverished Jewish girl from a backwater town on the margins of the Roman Empire who will give birth to the Word-made-flesh, the one who will conquer death and become the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead.
And so Mary’s labor pains prefigure, as it were, the birth pangs of the earth itself: because God has become human in the flesh of Jesus, joining humanity and divinity forever, it’s as if the earth is pregnant, and just as a pregnant woman cannot hold the baby within her womb forever, so will the earth be unable to hold the dead forever. Awake and sing for joy you who dwell in the dust!
And as Paul writes to the Thessalonians, this means we will be reunited with those who have been separated from us by death, and we will dwell with them in the presence of Jesus forever.
So today our Advent longing gives way to Christmas joy, because in the incarnation of Jesus, God has taken on all that it means to be human: all our suffering and pain and weakness and frailty, so that we may participate in the very life and love of God.
We do not pretend that all our longings are fulfilled or that our suffering doesn’t exist, but today in the midst of our ongoing doubts and pain and unfulfilled longings, we consent to Christmas joy. In the words of author K.J. Ramsey, “We welcome the wildest story…
The story of Love became more than words when a woman consented to bear a Life that couldn’t be understood, controlled, or protected from coming harm.
The Word became flesh through the womb of a woman.
And her welcome still matters today.
Mary, who was poor and quite young, who grew up in an occupied city where violence against unmarried women was rampant. Mary, who knew the stigma her courageous consent would bring.
Mary’s welcome still meets us where we are marginalized.
Mary’s consent still calls out to us where we need courage.
Female bodies, disabled bodies, queer bodies, mentally ill bodies, and Brown and Black bodies continue to be the battleground where much of the church most reduces the story of Love into mere words. And Mary the Mother of God reminds us, if Love came through a bloodied birth canal to a woman whom society shamed, Love can still be born wherever society makes us stuck and treats us with scorn.
If we forget the context of Christmas, we will forget our context has already been christened.
- Your positionality doesn’t preclude you from participating in the story of Love.
- Your struggles can’t stop you from being one in whom Love is born.
- Your wounds can never wall you off from welcoming Divinity into this world.
When the angel told Mary she would bear the Messiah, she said, “Let it be with me just as you have said.” May you say yes to welcoming the dignity of what your body bears.
The Incarnation means that being human is now part of what it means to be God, and that overcoming death is now part of what it means to human. So let us consent to the joy of Christmas today, exulting for a few moments in the wonder of the Incarnation.
Let us now, like the shepherds, glorify and praise God for what we have heard and seen.
Let us now, like Mary the Mother of God, preserve the words of the good news and contemplate them in our hearts.
Let us sing together for joy for all that God has done.
Ambre Lahar says
This is beautiful, Ben. Thank you so much for sharing. I just started reading your blog, but my dad shared it with me. I’m looking forward to reading it. Love to you and Deb.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks Ambre! Peace to you and yours. 🙂